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Is the $499 Essential phone worth it?

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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No other Android smartphone in 2017 has been as polarizing as the Essential phone. Created by the father of Android, many of us (tech reviewers) wanted a no compromise phone we could love. A device that would be a trailblazer showing other manufacturers what is possible and ushering in an new era of innovation through competition.

Instead the Essential phone is a device I want to love but can't. 

Essential recently dropped its Canadian and US price and many readers wanted to know if I could recommend this phone at the new price. Keep reading to find out.

It feels rushed

So Andy Rubin teed the essential phone in March an created a tone of excitement.

Reviewers went wild because it was the first phone with an edge to edge display. Since then, we have been bombarded with a bunch of beautiful, wet designed smartphones with edge to edge displays (like the Samsung Note 8, Samsung Galaxy S8+, iPhone X, etc). 

When I use the phone and compare it to its cousins, I have the feeling the phone was rushed. Since September, Essential has had to release 4 updates to make the device usable and it still has a lot of room for improvement.

One major complaint that seems to affect all users is the camera quality. Even with the hardware Essential used, most of us expected the device to take much better pictures. Then a port of the Google Pixel Camera app was released by an unknown developer and tests (see article here) show that through software, image quality can be greatly improved. This is the perfect example of issues created because Essential didn't take the time to release adequate software to make it's device shine.

If you take too many sequential burst pictures, the native Essential Camera app crashes and won't work until you restart the phone. 

If you take too many sequential burst pictures, the native Essential Camera app crashes and won't work until you restart the phone. 

The good

The Essential phone looks and feel amazing. It has a beautiful edge to edge screen that is brights.  The device is slightly heavier than competing products and really feels well built. It is (to me at least) the best looking android phone you can buy today.

It comes with USB C.

It has a camera that doesn't have a hump so the entire back of the device is flat and won't wobble when placed on a table.

It has a fantastic fingerprint reader that is well placed and works very quickly every time. 

It is running a stock version of Android (comparable to the Google Pixel line). This clean version of Android means the phone is extremely fast and responsive. Apps start quickly (often faster than on a Samsung Galaxy S8+ or Note 8). 

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Essential has committed to 3 years of security patches and 2 years of major OS updates which is a huge win. Even companies like Lenovo Motorola, Samsung and OnePlus don't commit to software updates like this. I think this is a huge plus for Essential and I wish other companies would follow it's lead.

The bad

The camera is one of the main reasons people buy smartphones and the Essential camera is just "ok". I won't bore you with samples because every reviewer has posted dozens but trust me, the camera will leave you wanting.

As mentioned above, the illicit port of the Google Pixel Camera app does make a significant improvement to the picture quality but it still isn't in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy S8 (which you can now buy around the same price) or the OnePlus 5 (which is out of stock as we wait for its replacement the OnePlus 5T).

It doesn't have any type of water or dust protection.

It doesn't support wireless charging.

You can't buy a second Essential branded was charger yet and the only add-on they released is their $150 360 camera which itself produces "ok" quality pictures and videos.

The speakers on the Essential phone get fairly loud but the audio quality is sub-par. 


The Essential phone was the phone I was hoping to love and was hoping it would become my daily driver (replacing my iPhone). 

So to answer the original question, even at this price, I can't recommend the phone for most users. If Essential released an Android 8 upgrade (we know they are testing it internally) and that version included a massively reworked camera app and they released the charging pad, then may recommendation would likely change.